Using phylogeographic analyses of gene trees to test species status and processes

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A gene tree is an evolutionary reconstruction of the genealogical history of the genetic variation found in a sample of homologous genes or DNA regions that have experienced little or no recombination. Gene trees have the potential of straddling the interface between intra- and interspecific evolution. It is precisely at this interface that the process of speciation occurs, and gene trees can therefore be used as a powerful tool to probe this interface. One application is to infer species status. The cohesion species is defined as an evolutionary lineage or set of lineages with genetic exchangeability and/or ecological interchangeability. This species concept can be phrased in terms of null hypotheses that can be tested rigorously and objectively by using gene trees. First, an overlay of geography upon the gene tree is used to test the null hypothesis that the sample is from a single evolutionary lineage. This phase of testing can indicate that the sampled organisms are indeed from a single lineage and therefore a single cohesion species. In other cases, this null hypothesis is not rejected due to a lack of power or inadequate sampling. Alternatively, this null hypothesis can be rejected because two or more lineages are in the sample. The test can identify lineages even when hybridization and lineage sorting occur. Only when this null hypothesis is rejected is there the potential for more than one cohesion species. Although all cohesion species are evolutionary lineages, not all evolutionary lineages are cohesion species. Therefore, if the first null hypothesis is rejected, a second null hypothesis is tested that all lineages are genetically exchangeable and/or ecologically interchangeable. This second test is accomplished by direct contrasts of previously identified lineages or by overlaying reproductive and/or ecological data upon the gene tree and testing for significant transitions that are concordant with the previously identified lineages. Only when this second null hypothesis is rejected is a lineage elevated to the status of cohesion species. By using gene trees in this manner, species can be identified with objective, a priori criteria with an inference procedure that automatically yields much insight into the process of speciation. When one or more of the null hypotheses cannot be rejected, this procedure also provides specific guidance for future work that will be needed to judge species status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-791
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Fragmentation
  • Haplotype tree
  • Hybridization
  • Nested clade analysis
  • Phylogeography
  • Species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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